Augustine: On Christian Doctrine and Selected Introductory Works (Theological Foundations), Augustine (edited by Timothy George). Nashville: B & H Academic, 2022.
Summary: Four works on Christian doctrine, written in the context of catechesis, by Augustine.
At some point, hopefully, the maturing Christian will hunger to read the great works of Christian theology through the history of the church. This new series, by B & H Academic, promises to offer affordable, handsomely presented and well-edited editions of the thought of prominent figures in church history. This work, along with John Calvin’s Commentary on Romans are the first volumes in what is hoped to be a growing series.
The four works included in this volume have in common Augustine’s concern to instruct his people in Christian belief.
On Christian Doctrine. Rather than a work on systematic theology or even core beliefs, it is instruction in how to understand the Bible, the source of all doctrine. We discover quickly what a formidable thinker Augustine is as he distinguishes between things and signs and between use and enjoyment. He instructs us how to deal with obscurities in scripture, the value of diverse interpretations and how to deal with false ones, the value of extrabiblical (heathen) sources. He is perhaps the first to propose interpreting obscure passages by those which are clearer. Book IV addresses preaching, the proper use and limitations of rhetoric (from a master rhetorician) and how important prayer is before preaching. While there are matters addressing questions of the times, there is much timeless and valuable counsel.
A Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed. This is perhaps one of the first expositions of what we call the Apostles Creed. He goes into depth on what it means that God is Almighty, what it means that the Son is begotten and yet One God with the Father, the incarnation, in which he was “born lowly” to “lift us up.” He affirms the trial before Pilate, the cross, the death, the resurrection, and ascension. On the Holy Spirit, he commends the Trinity. The Church, he says may be fought; but not fought down. We are raised, not like Lazarus but to bodily life everlasting. Read this to breathe life into your recitation of the creed!
A Treatise on Faith and the Creed. While also framed by the creed, this also addresses heresies of the time (which have recurred in various forms through history). He defends creation ex nihilo, the deity and consubstantiality of the Son, Mary’s crucial role, and the role of the Church in the remission of sins. A theme running throughout is the priority of faith and yet the necessity of reason.
A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter. This is an extensive discussion of the issues at the heart of the Pelagian controversies, defending Adam’s immortality before the fall; the corporate character of sin in Adam, that sin is not just imitation; that grace is a supernaturally imparted gift, not a part of human nature; that original sin had universal effect and that no one could live a sinless life under the law; and that predestination is based on divine sovereignty and that human works are the fruit of divine grace but not its cause.
Throughout, Augustine employs reason, step by step logic, and biblical exegesis in addressing various questions. He anticipates many later discussions of biblical interpretation, offering good sense to catechumens. The discussion of Pelagianism seems especially relevant in our present day focus on human potential. We can neither save ourselves nor grow in holiness by sheer willpower but only by the gift of God’s grace. The two pieces on the creed give us a sense of the historical concerns that led to this formulation and what a glowing affirmation these words are. These shorter works underscore why Augustine stands out as one of the greatest theologians in the history of the church.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.